Jethalal Gada is having a meltdown. Father Champaklal has gone missing but no one can leave the housing complex to go looking for him because there is a lockdown. The crisis soon tides over and all’s well. Scene over and Gada, played by Dilip Joshi, puts his mask back on and recedes into the background. It’s business as usual in the world of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, or is it?
One of the longest-running and popular series on Indian television, Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah returned to the small screen on Wednesday after a four-month gap.
With shooting of television serials gradually resuming with a set of safety guidelines, the cast and crew are learning to negotiate a new normal. Social distancing has replaced the easy bonhomie of yore with some actors even carrying their own makeup kits while lockdowns and face shields make their way into scripts and storylines.
“We have mustered a lot of courage and returned to the sets,” says Asit Kumarr Modi, creator of the series which is based on a Gujarati column by journalist-playwright Taarak Mehta.
The cast and crew undergo temperature checks and have sanitisers sprayed on them before entering the show’s massive set in Mumbai’s Film City. Bottles of sanitisers are kept across the set and everyone, barring the actors facing the camera, wears a mask. Once a scene is shot, the masks return with co-directors constantly reminding actors to “maintain social distancing”.
“When we resumed shooting after such a long break, it was unusual to find such few people on the set. And since the set is frequently sanitised, it smelt like a hospital,” says Joshi.
He admits that taking off the mask while giving a shot does pose a risk and a once-ordinary gesture like hugging a co-actor in the show now seems like an occupational hazard. While the new storylines of television serials avoid scenes requiring crowds and actors over 65 years in order to adhere to the safety guidelines, the challenges include how to ventilate rooms where shooting takes place and how to keep the spirit of the cast and crew up.
As the lockdown restrictions ease, the industry is slowly hobbling back to activity. On Tuesday, Kapil Sharma shared a photograph of two men in PPE suits applying make-up on him while a teaser promises that his show will be back soon. On Sony, new episodes of India’s Best Dancer, a reality show, were aired on the weekend. A bunch of other shows such as Vighnaharta Ganesh, Crime Patrol, Mere Sai, Mere Dad Ki Dulhan, Ek Duje Ke Vaaste Season 2 returned on Sony on Monday. Zee TV is also bringing back Kumkum Bhagya, Guddan Tumse Na Ho Payega, Tumse Hai Rishta and Qurbaan Hua among others this month. Colors TV too has started airing new episodes of Shakti Astitva Ke Ehsaas Kii, Barrister Babu, Pavitra Bhagya and Naati Pinky Ki Lambi Love Story among others.
The actors are happy to be back on the sets but the fear of contracting the virus looms large. “When I return home after the shoot, I first take a shower, ignoring my two dogs who demand my attention,” says Malav Rajda, co-director of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, who has a seven-month-old child at home.
Joshi, who spent this “unexpected break” with his family — his longest in the 12 years of the series being around — is happy to be back but says the news of Amitabh Bachchan and his family testing positive for Covid-19 only underlined the risks of their profession and got the unit worried. “We all have to be careful and learn to live with it, for now,” he says.
The show, after all, must go on.
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